Asterix and the Magic Carpet cover header by Albert Uderzo
|

Asterix v28: “Asterix and the Magic Carpet”

This one is, I’m afraid, just not that very good.  It hits the plot points, has a mix of jokes, but just feels empty and too easy.

Asterix and the Magic Carpet

Asterix and the Magic Carpet cover by Albert Uderzo
Writer: Albert Uderzo
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Colorist: Marcel Uderzo
Translator: Derek Hockridge and Anthea Bell
Published by: Orion/Hachette
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1987
Original Title: “Astérix chez Rahazade”

New Super Powers: Bring the Rain!

Cacofonix brings the rain in Asterix and the Magic Carpet

Cacofonix’s singing brings rain to the world.  27 volumes later, this is something Albert Uderzo made up to hang a story on.  When the Bard sings, it rains.  You know, just like it did in all the previous books where it never actually did…

I’m not a stickler for continuity, but this is a hell of a continuity implant for the sake of kicking off a weak story.

You see, a King’s daughter is to be sentenced to death unless it rains in her kingdom.  A friendly fakir rides his magic carpet to the Village to bring Cacofonix back with him to sing for the rain and to save the princess’ life.

No.  Just — no. I have to reject the very premise of the book. It’s a little too far out there, even for a book which once sent Asterix to Switzerland for a magical flower.

I have one “deep” thought on this one, but then I’m going to do lots of short takes on this book.

Continuity and Event Books of the 1980s

This book picks up in continuity after the events at the end of volume 27, “Asterix and Son.”  The Romans had burned down the Village, but then Julius Caesar fixed it up and re-built everything exactly the same. In case you missed the previous volume, Chief Vitalstatistix has the exposition dump on page one for you. Though, since there’s no real visible difference between the new and old villages, there’s really no need to hang a lantern on this plot point.  Just let it fly away and move on….

And so much for Asterix books standing completely on their own…

It’s something Uderzo keeps adding to the books.   He’s adding more continuity to the series, bringing old favorite characters back, and trying to include all the Greatest Hits of Asterix into every book. Again, this is something I mentioned in my last review.

But it just dawned on me what this scenario reminded me of.  It was another literary scenario that took place in the 1980s.  It landed on Isaac Asimov’s shoulders.  He created a series of short stories that turned into classics 20 years earlier, either under the “Robots” banner or “Foundation.”  In the 80s, he signed big book deals to continue the series in print.  All of a sudden, you had these publishing “events”.  When the stories weren’t coming out in the magazines with a shorter regularity, they were repackaged to be big hardcover books with all the bells and whistles.  Those stories had to be important and service what the fans wanted.  They were designed to be best sellers.

I can sense this happening with Uderzo.  I pulled that quote of his in my last review, where he talks about keeping the fans happy and what an Asterix book needs to be successful.  He was trapped by his own success and had to work within a certain expected framework.  The problem with that is, you don’t get anything new.  You just get a checklist to fill out with little room to expand beyond it.

Asterix over the Olympics in their Magic Carpet

The most blatant continuity call-back in the book happens as they fly on the magic carpet over Greece. It’s a half page spread looking down on the city and Asterix and Obelix share a moment remembering “Asterix at the Olympic Games.”  It has nothing to do with the plot.  It doesn’t add anything to any character.  It doesn’t recall a memory for the reader that might apply to the current story.

It’s like Uderzo is taking a half page to say to his readers,  “Hey, remember that great book we did that one time?  It was pretty great, wasn’t it?  Eh?”

I can feel him winking at me and nudging me in the ribs.  Yes, Albert, we get it!  I’ve spent all year to get to this moment so I could get it!

10 Random Thoughts on “Asterix and the Magic Carpet”

Cross-Referencing Goscinny

The one cross-reference I did enjoy in this book, though, is in this panel, where the evil guy who’s made up this whole plan to take over the kingdom says this:

An Iznogoud reference in Asterix and the Magic Carpet

Iznogoud, for those who don’t know, is a series Rene Goscinny wrote. Cinebook is publishing it these days.  I have to admit I’ve only read a few pages of it.  I need to read a whole volume of it someday for review…

This is one panel that doesn’t add anything to the story, really, but creates a nice tie-in. I’ll let it go this once.

It’s Magic!

We’re back to Uderzo getting more magical and fantastical with this book.  It all culminates with his final volume, “Asterix and the Falling Sky,” which featured aliens and robots and a lot of crazy stuff.

The closest Goscinny came to science fiction with “Asterix” was with the Druids’ magic potions.  Even the Soothsayer was exposed as a fraud pretty early on.  He didn’t really have precognition powers.

Asterix and Obelix ride on a magic carpet

In this book, we have a man on a flying carpet.  It just doesn’t work for me. It feels like it’s going too far now.  It’s necessary plot-wise, I suppose, because otherwise it would take too long to get Asterix and Obelix over to India.  

Uderzo doesn’t let it stay there, though.  There’s a whole flying carpet battle later, complete with wizard spells.

I just prefer the ships and the wagons, the choppy waters and the unpaved roads….

Is It Uderzo? Or Is It Memorex?

We all know Uderzo’s style changed a lot over the years.  By the time this book saw print, the series was pushing 30 years old.  If you look back at the first volume today, the characters would be early rough drafts of what we have by volume 29.  They grew up and out and got more cartoony.

But this book feels like a big jump.  The art in this book feels super cartoony.  Faces are far more subtle in their humor and expressions. Some hands and faces look out of character.  I’m not sure if that’s Uderzo racing to meet his deadlines or a sign of his getting older as an artist, or just my imagination.

Let It Rain

I love how Uderzo draws rain, though. It’s a great technique.  It always looks good. It reminds me of how Will Eisner drew it in his various graphic novels.

My Completely Unfair Criticism

“Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”?!?

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head in Asterix and the Magic Carpet

That’s far too modern a reference for Asterix.  And it’s a 1969 song.  I’m completely in the wrong here, but I can’t help myself…

Like I said, this is completely unfair.  I’m fine with Asterix quoting 1960s French pop songs.  It’s part of French culture.  But when he’s singing a Burt Bacarach songs from 1969, it’s a bridge too far.  It’s probably an addition from Hockridge and Bell, too, I know, but for some reason it really weirded me out.

No, really, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” premiered in 1969.  I could have sworn it was early- to -mid 70s!

Villainous Villains

I’ll say this, though: Hoodunnit is a despicable villain, through and through.  There’s nothing subtle about him.  His very character design oozes “malevolent bad guy.”  His plan is to kill the king’s daughter to bring him a step closer to controlling the land.  And when push comes to shove at the end of the book, he basically orders Cacofonix’s death.

Eeeeevil!

Uderzo Loves Animals

I mentioned recently that it feels like Uderzo really likes to draw animals and continues to put cute little background gags into scenes, where possible, with the local animal population.  

With this book, he gets to draw lions and elephants, monkeys, and snakes.  They’re all pretty good, too.

Obelix Versus the Royal Tiger

I loved this moment, in particular:

Asterix and the Magic Carpet features Obelix versus a Tiger

A New Purchase

This is the first time I’ve read this book.  

This book and the next, “Asterix and the Secret Weapon,” were the last two books in the series I didn’t own and had never read.  I picked them up on Amazon in anticipation of these reviews.  

This also means these are the two Asterix books I own print editions of from the 2014 remasterings. They look completely different from all the other books in the series on my shelf, but they do look great.  These books are super clean.

If You Have to Explain Them…

Albert Uderzo over-explains his jokes with caption boxes. Why?!?

Uderzo is only ramping up the number of times in each book that he explains his jokes with a footnote. Goscinny didn’t need to do that, except in the most extreme of circumstances.  Uderzo just wants to make sure everyone gets his Dad jokes.  They go from mostly not terribly funny to definitely not funny at all that way.

Is this the symptom of writing for a very large audience and not being secure in your own writing skills?

Best Name of the Book

Watzisnehm from Asterix and the Magic Carpet by Albert Uderzo

There are a few good ones in here.  As someone who loves a good “Who’s On First?” routine, how can I not have good things to say about a book starring a character named Watziznehm?

It’s the best one of the book.  Hoodunnit is good, and Orinjade works for me just because the spelling is so far from the original words. It helps to camouflage what could be a simple funny name.

Watziznehm wins in a landslide here.

Recommended?

Asterix and the Magic Carpet cover by Albert Uderzo

No, not at all.  There are 27 better books before you should think about reading this one. This one is just hollow.

Though I will say this– if this was the first and only Asterix book you ever read, you might enjoy it.  As you pick up other volumes, your reading experience with this series will only get better.

There, I said something nice.

— 2018.083 —

Next Book!

Bravura thinks she can talk the Romans out of their silly war.....

This next one is a doozy.

You know how some books don’t age well? Some might defend them as being a satire, but the reality is just that there are different norms now and — well, this one has a rough ending. I’m going to spoil it for you, don’t worry.

Click through to read all about “Asterix and the Secret Weapon.”

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

13 Comments

  1. Ugh. From my memory, this one is about as bad as it gets. 1.5/5 and even then I wonder if I’m being too generous.

    Agreed on the sudden revelation that Cacofonix’s singing makes it rain. The flying carpet is another step too far. The raining indoors. Dogmatix’s thought ballon saying “And he calls himself a poet”. There’s just so much which jars in this book and makes it not feel like an Asterix book.

    And wasting so much space just remembering previous stories.

    The art itself felt off all the way through as well. I wonder if Uderzo had a heavy amount of assistance on his art here, because it really feels like someone else impersonating his style – and I say this as someone who thinks Uderzo’s art gets better and better even in the not so well written later books.

    I’m slightly kicking myself for not spotting the Iznogoud reference. I even have one of those books.

    I agree with all of your pun names, but I’ll also add Onthepremesis as another good one.

    If memory serves, it does get a bit better after this one.

  2. Re: the art. I have to agree with Dan here, Uderzo sure had help for the art and probably the story as well.
    Re: the song. We French don’t know the Bacharach version, but Sacha Distel did a french version of it a few years later, that was fairly popular here. We still hear it accasionally when the weather is bad and newspeople have zero imagination.
    My impression of this volume is that Uderzo’s riding on the coattails of Disney’s Aladdin, which was very popular around the world, and at the same time is attempting to rejuvenate his audience by targeting kids, instead of the older generation of educated middle-class dads which used to be the main target audience under Goscinny (then trickling down to the whole family). This is when Asterix’s proportions began to resemble those of Mickey Mouse as well.

    1. One quick internet search later and it seems I was wrong, the Disney movie is from 1992 so Uderzo was totally ripped off by Disney, it seems.
      Yet my comment about the series being dumbed down for kids still applies, it’s just a general trend in entertainment, not just BD, from that point in time onwards.
      The song is here in French

      so no need to blame B&H for that one, it’s an original Uderzo reference.

        1. No need to thank me, kind sir 😉
          Every new Asterix review from Augie is a sweet trip down memory lane for me; among other things, it made me realize how great a childhood I had, being immersed in such wonderful craftsmanship by some of the greatest writers and artists of our time. In my book, that’s a win win.
          No wonder I’m so grumpy these days when I look around and I see mostly mediocrity 😀
          And now Augie’s started doing it again with Corto, which is also in my pantheon of masterpieces, so there’s no way shaking me off at this point hehe, said he with a grin on his face.

  3. I think Augie, Dan and J C have all made good points. For me the magical stuff is taken too far and the whole book feels a bit more childish than earlier Asterix books. I don’t find it offensively bad, just a bit empty and uninspired. By this stage in the series it’s becoming clear that Uderzo has a much less sure grasp of plots, characters and comedy than Goscinny.
    It also disorients me that the story is set in India but its biggest inspirations seem to be the 1001 Nights saga, which centred on Arabia, and Iznogoud, set in Baghdad. The French book title (Asterix chez Rahazade) even directly references Scheherazade, I think.

  4. Augie is getting savage hahaha
    Like much of the series I haven’t read it in a long time, I remember liking it at the time despite all the points you bring up, tho I was still a teen, but I agree the rain thing was pretty stupid a premise.

    At least you’re aware of what kind of rough time you’ve got coming up in the next few volumes…

    1. I’m just relieved that I’m not an easy mark. I CAN still read Asterix critically. =)

      And, yeah, I have seven books left of this? Oh, boy….

  5. Okay I’m going to say this and be prepared to get run out of town…

    I… ahem… I…. errr…. Iquitelikethisone….

    Look its okay right. I mean I do have to put that into a heck of a lot of context. Its not great by any standard. Indeed its not even that good… but I still enjoyed reading it quite a lot.

    It does indeed have signficent problems most of which are nailed by Augie and others.

    The premise is pretty weak. But to be fair we’ve seen that before and I’m not massively fussed if the whole rain thing is new and done just for this story, but its still quite weak.
    The magic does really, for the first time, stretch into the fantastical. I’d let the magic carpet pass as its central and quite harmless. But the magic lightening is really pushing it.
    Hoodunnit is a poor villian so transparent and his plot too transplant. Whats the point of an evil vizier if he’s plotting in the sultan’s face not behind his back!
    Those constant little editorial captions drove me nuts.

    So I agree its pretty weak on a number of levels… but it was fun. I actually quite liked the greatest hits tour. The journey really was the best bit of the story. I liked the fact it used old locations and even Caesar in fresh ways and was made to feel long, while still being fun all they way. I think that’s the thing with ‘Magic Carpet’, certainly compared to ‘and Son’ for all its faults it never forgets to have fun and while the jokes are a bit hit and miss Uderzo keeps trying bless him.

    Its also a good example of how great Asterix is as a series. This is a weak one. For all my positives even I can’t deny that. But damnit it still looks better than 90% of comics. Its still more entertaining than 90% of comics. Its still a good comic… just not a good Asterix comic.

    So on that basis its a solid 5.5 out of 10 on the Asterix scale.

    As for details man this one throws the names on and how. There are a LOT of great ones, all be it all a bit cheatly as the Indians aren’t bound by the firm naming rules of other nations. Still I’m going to give it to Howdoo as it makes me imagine him as an Elephant keeper from Leeds and it kinda works I just love hearing him in a Yorkshire accent! I know, I know its pretty spurious.

  6. I’m a bit late to the party, but I just wanted to add one thing: bad weather caused by off-key singing is a very common trope in France. It’s something children would say to tease a bad singer, like “There’s a storm coming, I guess you sang too much”. Maybe it’s not used that much any more, but it was certainly common enough in the late 20th century that me or my parents weren’t the least bit surprised by Cacofonix’s newfound superpower. When it’s commonly accepted that bad singing can bring bad weather, a cartoonishly bad singer causing a storm every times he sings is not that much of a stretch.
    So while that doesn’t excuse the books’ other shortcomings, I think this one isn’t as jarring as it seems if you read it with the mind of a 1980s French kid.

    Also, I’ve just spent hours reading your reviews of my childhood’s books and I’m thoroughly enjoying it!

    1. Ah, thanks, I’m learning little pieces of French culture as I go around here. I did not know this one before. Now it makes better sense, rather than just being some new random trick Uderzo made up out of thin air. And welcome to the party — hope you liked all the other reviews, as well. There’s plenty to keep you busy around here. =)

  7. Also, the Indian Fakir Watziznehm is a caricature of famed Indian Independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, who led India to freedom from British rule. But with a beard, and not just with a moustache.